WASHINGTON — Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., has joined a Republican colleague in the Senate to introduce legislation that would raise wages for workers with disabilities being paid subminimum wage.
Casey and Sen. Steve Daines of Montana say thousands of people with disabilities are being paid less than the minimum wage — most of those workers have intellectual or developmental disabilities — and some can be paid as little as a few cents an hour.
The Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act (TCIEA) would end the practice and support employers transitioning to paying competitive, fair wages to people with disabilities.
“Every American deserves to be paid a fair wage, but unfortunately that is not the case for many Americans with disabilities,” Casey said. “Some workers with disabilities spend decades earning a subminimum wage without the opportunity to gain new skills or move to a job that pays a higher wage.”
He said the bipartisan effort will end the “discriminatory subminimum wage practice” and help people with disabilities better achieve financial independence.
Tom Ridge, former Republican governor of Pennsylvania and the first secretary of Homeland Security, is chairman of the National Organization on Disability. He supports the proposed legislation, saying that disability policy is not a partisan issue.
“This legislation is a positive step in providing resources to states and providers that create more competitive employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities,” Ridge said. “At a time when our country is facing a significant workforce shortage, individuals with disabilities are ready to work.”
Citing data from the U.S. Department of Labor, Casey and Daines said an estimated 100,000 people in the nation are paid subminimum wage. This is due to a provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act that allows employers to apply for special certificates to pay people with disabilities lower wages.
A 2020 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report found that between 2017 and 2018, the average wage of a person with a disability working under such certificates was paid only $3.34 per hour — less than half of the federal minimum wage. The TCIEA would prohibit the U.S. Secretary of Labor from issuing new certificates and phase out the use of subminimum wage practices for all employers over five years.
It would provide grants to states or employers, supporting employers transitioning to a business model that pays at least minimum wage to workers with disabilities and continue to provide services and supports to workers with disabilities, particularly to those who need more supports in the workplace.